The government has today published its Levelling Up white paper setting out its programme to ensure economic opportunity is more evenly spread across the whole country. It includes invitations to nine areas to create new county-wide deals and negotiations over ‘trailblazing’ devolution expansions deals with Manchester and West Midlands mayoral combined authorities. The white paper sets out 12 levelling up missions to be achieved by 2030, including raising productivity in every area of the country, bringing local public transport standards closer to those in London, and delivering 5G broadband coverage for the majority of the population.
In response, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission Sir John Armitt said:
“We now have a clearer idea of what the government means by levelling up, and it is ambitious in its scope and aims. We need an equally ambitious implementation programme if we want to achieve tangible change in the space of eight years.
“Infrastructure such as local transport and digital connections has a key role to play in local regeneration alongside other policies like education and skills. The white paper recognises this cannot be delivered by Whitehall alone, and we welcome steps to broaden devolution to empower more local leaders to develop tailored infrastructure plans as part of their growth strategies.
“But this needs to be matched by urgent and fundamental reform of how local transport funding is allocated, with a shift from short term funding pots over which councils bid against each other, to long term devolved funding deals. While the white paper promises a plan to move towards this simplification, this needs to be turned into real change quickly, and new devolved arrangements need to be in place much sooner than 2030.
“Achieving an internationally competitive city in each region requires internationally comparable mass transit networks. Delivering this needs government to start work now on a pipeline of major transport projects for cities outside London.
“For our own part, the Commission will be examining further how public transport schemes can best work alongside other measures to alleviate congestion in cities, to support both local growth and levelling up.”
In September 2021, the Commission published a major report on how infrastructure can support economic growth and quality of life in English towns. The central recommendation was a shift towards handing power to local areas to deliver their own infrastructure strategies with five-year devolved budgets, and a move away from competitive bidding for centrally controlled pots of funding. The 74 county councils and unitary authorities responsible for strategic transport planning should be resourced to develop long term infrastructure strategies for the towns in its area, supported by a pipeline of projects.
The Commission’s earlier recommendations on the approach for cities funding, from the first National Infrastructure Assessment (2018), can be read here.
‘Levelling up’ is one of the three key strategic themes which will frame the second National Infrastructure Assessment, to be published in the second half of 2023. More details of the projects being explored can be found here.